This story is part of KSAT’s interactive project “One Year In: Uvalde,” which honors victims and survivors of the Robb Elementary School shooting on May 24, 2022.
No students will ever go back to Robb Elementary School.
It will be demolished, but there are no firm plans for what will go in its place. Parents said they don’t believe a park with a playground would be appropriate, but they support a memorial. They just want something peaceful, they said.
A new school will instead go up near Dalton Elementary School.
Tim Miller, executive director of the Uvalde CISD Moving Forward Foundation, said they are planning on breaking ground this summer. The nonprofit foundation was charged with raising funds to build a new school.
“It’s an accelerated process,” he said, “because right now, students are out in portables and other places in our schools and they don’t have a 2nd, 3rd, 4th campus to call their own.”
The Community Advisory Committee started to hold meetings in September and they received input from people in the community, law enforcement, students and school staff. A schematic design for the new building was approved by the school board in April.
The campus will hold students from second through fourth grades, as Robb did, and will have a trauma-informed schematic design, Miller said. That includes counseling rooms, classrooms for students with special needs, and a design that allows for natural light and calming colors.
The design incorporates trees, the Frio River, honeybees and monarch butterflies — the symbols of Uvalde.
The families of victims have also been involved in the design of a memorial at the new school. Built near the library, the memorial will represent an oak tree.
It will include two large branches for teachers Irma Garcia and Eva Mireles and 19 smaller branches for the students.
“I think this school, the process of designing this school and building this school, and having children and teachers laugh and learn in a school, will be the example that Uvalde can set for the world in terms of how to come back from such a horrible event,” he said.
Safety and security were priorities in the design, he said. A secure vestibule, access control security cameras, security glass and 9-foot, 4-inch-tall fencing are some of the security features.
Gary Patterson, the interim superintendent for UCISD, said they’ve made “great strides” in securing campuses, like adding fencing, cameras and key access cards.
“It looks a lot different than it did a year ago, obviously,” he said. “After the incident in May, then the district really fast-forwarded as quick as they can and made a lot of decisions on what they wanted the schools to look like, how safe they wanted them to be, and how fast that can happen.”
UCISD Police Chief Josh Gutierrez said the district has five officers, including himself. DPS troopers were called in to help at the beginning of the school year and they will remain until no longer needed, he said.
The district has eight schools and 4,000 students. Patterson said he wants to grow the police department and have an officer for every campus.
It’s harder than it looks to hire qualified officers because they’re in demand, he said.
Apart from the training, Gutierrez said he wants his officers to build trust and communicate with each other and the community.
“When I took this job on, the biggest, I guess my main goal was to build a foundation for the police department,” he said. “And every officer since then that we’ve brought on is understanding that we’re also building trust back with the community and building relationships back with the community and along with our staff and our students.”
Gutierrez was named the interim police chief in November after then-police chief Pete Arredondo was fired in August. Arredondo took much of the initial blame as DPS Director Steve McCraw identified him as the incident commander who didn’t properly act. Gutierrez was promoted to official police chief in March.
The schools are safer now, they said, but they acknowledged that they are continuously finding ways to improve.
“It’s very difficult to secure every student getting on the bus anywhere in the community. It’s very difficult to protect everything at large gatherings like football games and concerts,” Patterson said. “Schools were built to keep people into all these facilities, not keep them away. There’s still work to be done and our students still can be vulnerable in certain positions no matter how much security we have… so yeah we still worry.”
Gutierrez said his mindset is keeping students safe so they can enjoy simple things like playgrounds and field days.
“If a bad person entered our schools, I will protect your child at all costs,” he said.
When asked if he would have entered the rooms where the shooter holed himself up, Gutierrez replied, “I will protect their child at all costs, ma’am.”